Collaboration between Academia
and Private Industry
The petroleum industry was hatched in a very modern symbiosis of business acumen and scientific ingenuity. In the 1850s, George Bissell, a Dartmouth College graduate in his early thirties who had enjoyed a checkered career as a reporter, Greek professor, school principal, and lawyer, had the inspired intuition that the rock oil plentiful in western Pennsylvania was more likely than coal oil to yield a first-rate illuminant. To test this novel proposition, he organized the Pennsylvania Rock-Oil Company, leasing land along Oil Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River, and sending a specimen of local oil to be analyzed by one of the most renowned chemists of the day, Professor Benjamin Silliman, Jr. of Yale. In his landmark 1855 report, Silliman vindicated Bissel's hunch that this oil could be distilled to produce a fine illuminant, plus a host of other useful products. Now the Pennsylvania Rock-Oil Company faced a single, seemingly insurmountable obstacle: how to find sizable quantities of petroleum to turn Professor Silliman's findings into spendable cash. (Chernow 1998, p. 74)
This chapter examines some of the ethical dilemmas and issues arising from relationships between higher learning institutions and private industry, including conflicts of interest, research bias, suppression of research, secrecy, and the threat to academic values, such as openness, objectivity, freedom of inquiry, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The chapter also provides an overview of the historical, social, and economic aspects of the academic–industry interface and addresses some policies for ensuring that this relationship benefits researchers, universities, industry, and society.
Although the times have changed and much more money is at stake, nineteenth-century scientist-entrepreneurs such as Bissell and Silliman have much in common with their contemporary counterparts, such as Craig Venter, the head of Celera Genomics Corporation. The ingredients are the same: a wellknown scientist from a well-known institution invents a product or develops a process that can be used by large number of people and hopes to make a lot of money from it. In Venter's case, he became frustrated with academic science and launched his own company and research program. Venter's key innovation was the “shotgun” approach to genome sequencing, which stands in sharp contrast to the traditional, and slower, “clone by clone” method. Venter has